Category Archives: Germanic

Simplification of Language with Increasing Civilization: A Result of Contact or Civilization Itself

Nice little comment here on an old post, Primitive People Have Primitive Languages and Other Nonsense? 

I would like to dedicate this post to my moronic field of study itself, Linguistics, which believes in many a silly thing as consensus that have never been proved and are either untrue or probably untrue.

One of the idiocies of my field is this belief that in some way or another, most human languages are pretty much the same. They believe that no language is inherently better or worse than any other language, which itself is quite a dubious proposition right there.

They also believe, incredibly, that no language is more complex or simple than any other language. Idiocy!

Another core belief is that each language is perfectly adapted for its speakers. This leads to their rejecting claims that some languages are unsuitable for the modern world due to lack of modern vocabulary. This common belief of many minority languages is obviously true. Drop a Papuan in Manhattan, and see what good his Torricelli tongue does him. He won’t have words for most of the things around him. He won’t even have verbs for most of the actions he sees around him. His language is nearly useless in this environment.

My field also despises notions that some languages are better suited to poetry, literature or say philosophy than others or that some languages are more or less concise or exact than others or that certain concepts or ways of thinking are better expressed in one language as opposed to another. However, this is a common belief among polyglots, and I would not be surprised if it was true.

The question we are dealing with below is based on the notion that many primitive languages are exceeding complex and the common sense observation that as languages acquire more speakers and civilization increases, one tends to see a simplification of language.

My field out and out rejects both statements.

They will tell you that primitive languages are no more complex than more civilized tongues and that there is no truth to the statement that languages simplify with greater numbers of speakers and increased civilization. However, I have shot these two rejected notions to many non-linguists, and they all felt that these statements had truth to them. Once again, my field violates common sense in the name of the abstract and abstruse “we can’t prove anything about anything” scientific nihilism so common in the intellectually degraded social sciences.

Indeed, some of the most wildly complex languages of all can be found among rather primitive peoples such as Aborigines, Papuans, Amerindians and even Africans. Most language isolates like Ket, Burashaski and Basque are pretty wild. The languages of the Caucasus are insanely complex, and that region doesn’t exactly look like Manhattan. Siberian languages are often maddeningly complex.

Even in China, in the remoter parts of China, language becomes highly differentiated and probably more complex. I know an American who was able to learn Cantonese and Mandarin who told me that at age 35, for an American to learn Hokkien was virtually impossible. He tried various schemes, but they all failed. He finally started to get a hold of the language with a strict eight hour a day study schedule. Anything less resulted in failure. Hokkien speakers that he spoke too said you needed to grow up speaking Hokkien to be able to speak the language well at all. By the way, this is another common sense notion that linguists reject. They say there are no languages so difficult that it is very hard to pick them up unless you grew up with them.

The implication here is that Min Nan is even more complex than the difficult Mandarin or even the forbidding Cantonese, which even many Mandarin speakers give up trying to learn because it is too hard.

Min Nan comes out Fujian Province, a land of forbiddingly high mountains where language differentiation is very high, and there is often difficult intelligibility even from village to village. In one area, fifteen years ago an American researcher decided to walk to a nearby village. It took him six very difficult hours over steep mountains. He could have taken the bus, but that was a four-day trip! A number of these areas had no vehicle roads until recently and others were crossed by vast rivers that had no bridges across them. Transportation was via foot. Obviously civilization in these parts of China is at a more primitive level, and it’s hard to develop Hong Kong-style cities in places with such isolating and rugged terrain.

It’s more like, “Oh, those people on the other side of the ridge? We never go there, but we heard that their language is a lot different from ours. It’s too hard to go over that range so we never go to that area.”

In the post, I theorized that as civilization increased, time becomes money, and there is a need to get one’s point across quickly, whereas more primitive peoples often spend no more than 3-4 hours a day working and the rest sitting around, playing  and relaxing. A former Linguistics professor told me that one theory is that primitive people, being highly intelligent humans (all humans are highly intelligent by default), are bored by their primitive lives, so they enjoy their wildly complex languages and like to relax, hang out and play language games with them to test each other on how well they know the structures. They also like to play tricky and maybe humorous language games with their complicated languages. In other words, these languages are a source of intellectual stimulation and entertainment in an intellectually impoverished area.

Of course, my field rejects this theory as laughably ridiculous, but no one has disproven it yet, and I doubt if the hypothesis has even been tested, hence it is an open question. My field even tends to reject the notion of open questions, preferring instead to say that anything not proven (or even tested for that matter) is demonstrably false. That’s completely anti-scientific, but that’s the trend nowadays across the board as scientistic thinking replaces scientific thinking.

Of course this is in line with the terrible conservative or reactionary trend in science where Science is promoted to a fundamentalist religion and scientists decide that various things are simply proven true or proven not true and attempts to change the consensus paradigm are regarded derisively or with out and out fury and rage and such attempts are rejected via endless moving of goalposts with the goal of making it never possible to prove the hypothesis. If you want to see an example of this in Linguistics, look at the debate around  Altaic. They have set it up so that no matter how much existing evidence we are able to gather for the theory, we will probably never be able to prove it as barriers to proof have been set up to make the question nearly unprovable.

It’s rather senseless to set up Great Wall of China-like barriers to proof in science because at some point,  you are hardly proving anything new, apparently because you don’t want to.

Fringe science is one of the most hated branches of science and many scientists refer to it as pseudoscience. Practitioners of fringe science have a very difficult time as the Scientific Establishment often persecutes them, for instance trying to get them fired from professorships. Yet this Establishment is historically illiterate because many of the most stunning findings in history were made by widely ridiculed fringe scientists.

The commenter below rejects my theory that increased civilization itself results in language simplification, as it gets more important to get your point across as quickly  as possible with increasing complexity and development of society. Instead he says civilization leads to increased contact between speakers of different dialects or language, and in such cases,  language must be simplified, often dramatically, in order for any decent communication to occur. Hence increased contact, not civilization in and of itself, is the driver of simplification.

I like this theory, and I think he may be onto something.

To me the simplification of languages of more ‘civilized’ people is mostly a product of language contact rather than of civilization itself. If the need arises to communicate with foreign people all of the time, for example in trade, then the language must become more simple in order to be able to be understood by more people.

Also population size matters a lot. It has been found that the greater the number of speakers, the greater the rate of language change. For example Polynesian languages, although having been isolated centuries or even millennia ago, still have only minor differences from one another.

In the case of many speakers, not all will be able to learn all the rules of a language, so they will tend to use the most common ones. And if the language is split in many dialects, then speakers of each dialect must find a compromise in order to communicate, which might come out as simple. If we add sociolects, specific registers for some occasions, sacred registers, slang etc, something that will arise in a big and stratified civilization, then the linguistic barriers people will need to overcome become greater. So it is just normal that after some centuries, this system to simplify.

We don’t need to look farther than Europe. Most languages of the western half being spoken in countries with strong trade links to one another and with much of the world later in history are quite analytic, but the languages of the more isolated eastern part are still like the older Indo-European languages. Basques, living in a small isolated pocket in the Iberian Peninsula, have kept a very complex language. Icelanders, also due to isolation, have kept a quite conservative Germanic language, whereas most modern Germanic languages are ridiculously simplified. No one can argue in his sane mind that Icelanders are primitives.

On the other hand, Romanian, being spoken in the more isolated Balkans, has retained more of the complex morphology of Latin compared to West Romance languages. And of course advance of civilization won’t automatically simplify the language, as Turkish and Russian, both quite complicated languages compared to the average European tongue, don’t seem to give up their complexity nowadays.

On the other hand, indigenous people were living in a much more isolated setting compared to the modern world, the number of speakers was comparatively low, and there was no need to change. Also, neighboring tribes were often hostile to one another, so each tribal group sought to make itself look special. That is the reason why places with much inter-tribal warfare like New Guinea have so many languages which are so different from one another. When these languages need to communicate, we get ridiculously simple contact languages like Hiri Motu.
So language simplification is more a result of language contact rather than civilization itself.

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Filed under Aborigines, Altaic, Amerindians, Anthropology, Applied, Asia, Basque, Cantonese, Caucasus, China, Chinese language, Cultural, Dialectology, Europe, Germanic, Indo-European, Isolates, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Mandarin, Min Nan, Near East, Papuans, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, Russian, Science, Siberian, Sinitic, Sino-Tibetan, Sociolinguistics, Turkic, Turkish

Western Europe: What Native Languages Are Spoken in France?

Montleek: Robert, is it possible that in Western Europe, the regional lects have been preserved better, while in eastern Europe are preserved worse? There was communism/socialism in Eastern Europe, therefore more tendency not to continue speaking with regional lect.

In France, the regional lects are the langues d’ oil (still spoken, believe it or not!), Occitan, Breton, Alsatian, Franconian, Arpitan, and Flemish.

With Arpitan, Alsatian, Occitan and the langues d’oil, you can definitely get to the point of having a different lect in every major city if not every town in some cases.

There are a number of languages split through these regional lects. There are probably at least 10 full languages in the langues d’oil, ~20 in Occitan and Arpitan, five in Breton and more than one in Alsatian. The Flemish spoken in France is a separate language from that spoken in Belgium, hardly intelligible to a Belgian.

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Filed under Belgium, Celtic, Europe, France, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Italo-Celtic, Italo-Celtic-Tocharian, Language Families, Linguistics, Moselle Franconian, Occitan, Regional, Romance

Western Europe: What Native Languages Are Spoken in Germany?

Montleek:  Robert, is it possible that in Western Europe, the regional lects have been preserved better, while in eastern Europe are preserved worse? There was communism/socialism in Eastern Europe, therefore more tendency not to continue speaking with regional lect.

Germany is a very chaotic situation with a dialect in every town or village.

Dutch is actually spoken up near the Dutch border, but the form is not intelligible at all with Dutch across the border. You get into the different dialect in every town here.

Danish spoken a bit up by the Danish border.

Sorbian is spoken in the central east.

Frisian is spoken in the northwest and in the far north.

There are up to 138 separate languages within German by my calculation and splitting down to dialects, there must be many more, surely hundreds and maybe over a thousand. There are 3-4 languages within the Macro-Dutch spoken on the border and a dialect in every town. The Danish spoken in the north is not very dialectally diverse. Frisian is spoken as North Frisian and Saterland Frisian, but there may be up to five languages inside North Frisian. Sorbian is spoken in two forms, Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian, and both are separate languages.

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Danish, Dialectology, Dutch, Europe, Frisian, German, Germanic, Germany, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Regional, Sociolinguistics

Western Europe: What Native Languages Are Spoken in the Netherlands?

Montleek: Robert, is it possible that in Western Europe, the regional lects have been preserved better, while in eastern Europe are preserved worse? There was communism/socialism in Eastern Europe, therefore more tendency not to continue speaking with regional lect.

In the Netherlands, regional lects of Dutch Low Saxon, Limburgs, Dutch, Frisian, Low Dietsch and Southeast Limburgs are spoken.

Dutch is spoken in a bewildering variety of lects. There is nearly a separate lect in every village or city.

Limburgs is spoken a bit in the far south and there is a different lect in every town here too.

Dutch Low Saxon is spoken in the north and center of the country, once again as a different lect in every town. Whether this is really Macro-German or Macro-Dutch is not certain, but I would call it more Dutch than German.

Frisian is less dialectally diverse.

There are also very strange languages like Low Dietsch and Southeast Limburgs spoken in the far south. These are classification nightmares. After a lot of study, I concluded that these are neither German nor Dutch but actually something completely in between. With Southeast Limburgs and Low Dietsch, you also run into a the dialect in every town situation.

There area number of separate languages within Dutch in the Netherlands, probably over a dozen. There are three Dutch Low Saxon languages, but the situation is very confused and is almost a classification nightmare. There are probably 3-4 languages inside Frisian, though the vast majority speak the standard lect. There are probably two lects inside Limburgs. Southeast Limburgs and Low Dietsch are separate languages, though each seems to have a few languages inside of it.

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Comparitive, Dutch, Europe, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Classification, Language Families, Linguistics, Netherlands, Regional

Western Europe: What Native Languages Are Spoken in Belgium?

Montleek: Robert, is it possible that in Western Europe, the regional lects have been preserved better, while in eastern Europe are preserved worse? There was communism/socialism in Eastern Europe, therefore more tendency not to continue speaking with regional lect.

In Belgium, there are regional lects of Flemish, Dutch, French, Limburgs and German.

Flemish is diverse, though I am not sure if you get to a situation of a different lect in every town.

Dutch is spoken in Belgium, sometimes in forms like Brabants not intelligible to a Dutchman.

Limburgs is actually a separate language spoken in the east. German is spoken in the far south.

The German spoken is a separate language called Ripaurian.

French is spoken as Walloon, actually a separate language

There are probably several languages in Belgian Flemish. There may be two in Limburgs. and there are at least two languages in Walloon. There are probably a few languages inside Belgian Ripaurian. There are at least two languages in Walloon.

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Belgium, Dutch, Europe, French, German, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Italic, Language Families, Linguistics, Regional, Riparian, Romance

Is Flemish a Dialect of Dutch?

SHI: “Flemish” is Dutch. Flemish is just a name for a regional variation of the Dutch language in Flanders.

I do not agree. That’s Dutch politics and especially Dutch nationalism talking, not linguistic science. I believe that most linguists agree that Dutch and Flemish are two separate languages. And Ethnologue says that Flemish and Dutch are two different languages. Also I believe that mutual intelligibility is not good between Flemish and Dutch regional forms. Yes, Official Flemish is intelligible with Official Dutch, but those are artificial languages. The real true Flemish of regional lects has poor intelligibility with any form of Dutch. And Flemish speakers cannot understand many regional forms of Dutch.

Hell, Dutch is not even intelligible within itself, as the different Dutch lects often cannot understand each other well. It’s the same with Flemish. A number of the regional Flemish lects cannot understand each other well.

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Dutch, Germanic, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Sociolinguistics

Racist Post of the Day

From this post:

Ms: Same for niggardly or tar baby. You still have dindu, though.

Yes.

Waiter: “These Blacks always leave niggardly tips!”

Boss: “Racist! You’re fired!”

Waiter: No! You don’t understand! Not niggerly tips, niggardly tips!

Boss: I’m calling the SPLC!

Waiter: “WTF did you flunk English 10?”

Interesting tidbit: The word “niggardly” apparently comes from the Old English word, nig, “stingy”, 1300, Middle English. Possibly borrowed from Scandinavian nygg, “stingy”, which may be from Old Norse nigla, “to make a fuss about small matters. -ard, Middle English “pejorative”. So nig + ard,  “stingy” + “lowlife”. Niggard, “stingy lowlife,” niggardly, “acting like a stingy lowlife, miserly, tight, cheap, stingy, etc.”

I didn’t know nig meant stingy. I always thought it meant something else.

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Filed under English language, Linguistics, Race/Ethnicity

Is English a Scandinavian Language?

Philip Andrews writes:

It is surprising how little attention is paid to the influence of the Danelaw on the English language. no one in Old English academia seems to want to touch it. It’s a Norwegian article that has claimed English is a Scandinavian language.

Anglo-Saxon and the Early post-Norman Conquest English church put the dampers on the Scandinavian influence. Even the story of the Norman Conquest’ reads quite differently in the Norse Saga version to how it comes through the AS Chronicle.

AS lost most of its grammar to the Norse of the Danelaw. That’s why English has not the inflection system of Continental Germanic but rather that of Norse. I’m happy to think of English as Norse in grammar and Syntax but mostly Latin-French in vocabulary. About 60+% of English derives from Latin-French.

Personally I question the old story of the Normans being ‘Northmen’. Another AS/Norman manipulation. It was 1,000 years ago but the Normands were in what is now France earlier. Records 1,000 years ago as now were subject to political manipulation.

Why did William go to the Pope for a Blessing for a Crusade? Because he was intent on driving the pagan Vikings out of England and Christianizing the place under Norman tutelage. Hence the Harrying of the North. Yorkshire is still far more ‘Norse’ than any other part of England. Listening to people north of Watford speak English and you’re listening to Norse accents speaking English. With Norse words in dialects. If William hadn’t come with mounted archers (from the East) he could never have defeated the Vikings.

Much of English history abroad (empire etc.) equates to versions of Viking raiding. Old Norse habits die hard.

I don’t really agree with this, but it is an interesting idea anyway.

I did some research on this question recently. England was settled by the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes.

There is a Low German language called Anglish which is spoken in an areas of the far north of Germany called Schlesweig-Holstein. Anglish is apparently the remains of the Low German language spoken by the Angles. This is a peninsula that connects Germany with Denmark. The southern half of the peninsula is Germany, and the north half is Denmark. Anglish is not readily intelligible with any other Low German language, even those nearby.

The Saxons were found a bit to the south, but I believe that they also came from this peninsula.

And it is interesting that in this part of Germany, especially around Fleisburg on the border, the dialect of Low German that they speak is more or less intelligible not with Danish but with a Danish dialect called South Jutnish that is so divergent that in my opinion, it is a separate language from Danish. Danish speakers have poor intelligibility of South Jutnish. From the Net:

Sønderjysk is often seen as very difficult for other speakers of Danish even other Jysk or Jutnish dialects to understand. Instead of the normal Danish stød, it has tonal accents like Swedish. Many of the phonemes are also different, including velar fricatives much like in German. It also has the definite article before the noun, as opposed to the standard Danish postclitic article. South Jutlandic is surely a separate language.

So in this part of Germany, there are Low German lects that are actually intelligible with Danish lects. So here is where “German” and “Danish” are nearly transitional. However, Standard German and Standard Danish are not intelligible with each other at all. Nevertheless, German speakers can pick up Danish and other Scandinavian languages pretty easily.

And South Jutnish itself is interesting in that Jutnish was one of the languages spoken by one of the tribes that invaded England, the Jutes. So one of “Anglo-Saxon” tribes that invaded England actually spoke something like “Danish.” South Jutnish itself is said to be quite a bit like English, especially the older forms of English. There are stories about speakers of the pure Scots language spoken in Scotland going to the South Jutnish area and being able to converse with South Jutnish speakers.Scots can be thought of as English  from 500 years ago because Scots split from English about 500 years ago. So in this case we have West Germanic and North Germanic speakers who are able to actually converse.

There is also a suggestion based on the fact that North Germanic South Jutnish is intelligible with whatever odd West Germanic Low German lect is spoken near Fleisburg that South Jutnish itself may be nearly German-Danish transitional.

A few take-home points: the “Anglo-Saxons” actually something a lot more like Low German than Standard German. Low German and Standard German are separate languages and German speakers cannot understand Low German. And the “Anglo-Saxons” also spoke something like “Danish” in the form of Jutnish. Also all of these Low German lects that made up “Anglo-Saxon” came from the far north of Germany where “German” and “Danish” start to nearly blend into each other or better yet where West Germanic and North Germanic are almost transitional.

In addition to the evidence coming from the Danelaw area of England where actual Danish speakers settled, it appears that the Scandinavian or North Germanic influence in English is more with Danish than with any other Scandinavian language.

However, 2/3 of the Anglo-Saxon components were actually from West Germanic Low German lects which are not readily intelligible with any Danish, not even with South Jutnish.

It is often said that the closest language to English is West Frisian, spoken in the northwest of the Netherlands. This is a Germanic language that is close to Dutch. In fact, some say that West Frisian itself is straight up from Old Saxon, which is the language that the Saxons of the Anglo-Saxons spoke. A man who is able to speak Old English went to the West Frisia area of the Netherlands and spoke to an old farmer there who spoke good West Frisian. They were actually able to hold a conversation in English from 1,000 years ago and West Frisian of today. West Frisian of course is a West Germanic language.

However, if you look into the mater a bit more, the language that is closest to English is the endangered North Frisian, with 66% cognates with English in the most frequently used words, a bit more than West Frisian. Nevertheless, 66% cognates in the most frequently used words doesn’t do any good for intelligiblity. I listened to a 10 minute broadcast of an old woman speaking North Frisian and I could not understand one word.

North Frisian, which actually may be up to five separate languages, is also spoken in that same peninsula of far northern Germany that Anglish, Saxon and Jutnish were spoken in. However, it is spoken on the east coast of the peninsula whereas Anglish and Saxon were spoken more to the west. So once again with North Frisian and English we see one more connection with this far northern part of Germany that borders on Denmark. Yet North Frisian is a West Germanic language, not a North Germanic Scandinavian language.

A language called Ingeavonic was spoken long ago in this region, and some put “Anglo-Frisian” in a West Germanic node under Ingeavonic. For a long time there was something called the North Sea Fisherman’s lect that originated in this same part of Germany but over on the west coast by Fleisburg rather than on the east coast by the North Frisian language. It was said that fishermen from all over the North Sea from the nations of Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Norway and Sweden spoke this lingua franca or trade language. This North Sea Fisherman’s language is said to have looked a lot like Ingaevonic.

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Britain, Danish, English language, Europe, European, Frisian, German, Germanic, Germany, History, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Linguistics, Low German, Regional, Scots, West Frisian

“It’s an Ill Wind That Blows No Good”

What does the phrase “It’s an ill wind that blows no good” mean? There are a couple of other sayings like this in English, but if I gave them to you, you would be able to get the meaning of this saying. There is also a cool saying in German along these lines. This saying is not heard much, but I like it myself. I believe my parents used to use it, especially my mother. My father didn’t use this phrase, and he would have been unlikely to believe in such a concept anyway due to the nature of his worldview..

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Is English a German or Scandinavian Language?

S. D. writes: I’m German American. Half my family is Prussian German and the other half is from Munich in the South. I can answer this, sort of.

English is actually from Denmark.

These folks were never from Germany, they were from Saxony and Angles They were Scandinavians.

Normans brought a great deal of Latin words into the English language but they themselves were Norwegians.

Brits have no German in them. They are Scandinavian and Celtic. Their language reflects this.

Wait a minute. English is a West Germanic language. It is in the same branch of Germanic as German. The most closely related language to English is Frisian, which is spoken as probably up to seven separate languages in Northwestern Netherlands and Northwestern and Far Northern Germany.

Scandinavian is North Germanic. All of these languages are straight up from Old Norse.

English is up from Old German, or more properly the Anglo-Frisian branch. Frisian is straight up from Old Saxon, which gives you a clue to what the Anglo-Saxons were speaking.

A man who knows how to speak Old English recently went to Frisia with a TV crew. He stopped and talked to an old farmer who was a Frisian speaker. He could actually communicate with this guy with him speaking Old English and the farmer speaking Frisian (“Modern Saxon”). If you look at Old English, it looks like German. If you hear a tape of someone reading Beowulf, it sounds like someone speaking German. Not only that, but you cannot understand a word.

The British are mostly a Celtic or even a pre-Celtic people. On top of that is layered some German (the Anglo-Saxons), some French (the Normans) and some Danish on the east and north, formerly the Daneland.

I have heard stories about the Normans being Vikings or Norwegians, but I am not sure about that. They were living in France when they invaded. One of my distant ancestors is Eleanor of Acquitaine, Queen of England. She was from the West Central Coast of France.

The Normans brought a lot of French words into English. Actually they spoke Norman, which is a completely separate language from French and is still alive to this day, though it is endangered. But it is related to French. Norman split off from Old French in ~800-1000 CE.

The Scottish and especially the Irish have a lot of Scandinavian blood in them due to a lot of Viking raids in those places. That is why there is all the red and blond hair and green and blue eyes there (red hair and green eyes in Ireland and blond hair and blue eyes in Scotland).

It is true that a lot of Latin borrowings came into English during the Norman period and even afterwards, as Latin was the language of science, technology and government. Some Danish words did go into English from the Daneland. Scots and a lot of the incomprehensible English dialects from northeastern English such as Geordie have heavy Danish influence.

However, there is a little something to your theory. The three tribes in that area that all invaded England were called the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes. The Angles and Saxons lived from northeastern Netherlands through Northwestern and Far Northern Germany, but the Jutes actually did inhabit Far Southwest Denmark. They speak a language down there called South Jutish, and I am told that Danes cannot understand it at all. However, I have heard that a Jutish speaker and a Scots speaker from Scotland can actually somewhat communicate along the lines of the Old English speaker and the Frisian farmer!

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